NASSAU, (Reuters) – The northeast U.S. seaboard, including the capital, Washington, and financial center New York, rushed to prepare yesterday for a possible mauling from powerful Hurricane Irene this weekend.
From the Carolinas to Cape Cod, more than 50 million people were potentially in Irene’s path. States, cities, ports, industries, oil refineries and nuclear plants scrambled to activate emergency plans, while residents stocked up on food and water and worked to secure homes, vehicles and boats.
The U.S. Navy sent the ships of its Second Fleet out of port at Hampton Roads, Virginia, to ride out the expected powerful storm at sea.
Irene, a major Category 3 hurricane, battered the low-lying Bahamas southeast of Florida yesterday and was expected to sweep northward to hit the North Carolina coast tomorrow, before raking the remaining Atlantic seaboard.
“All the major metropolitan areas along the Northeast are going to be impacted,” National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read told Reuters Insider. “Being a large hurricane, tropical storm-force winds will extend far inland.”
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, authorizing federal aid to support the state’s storm response.
After hitting North Carolina, Irene was expected to weaken to a still-dangerous Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, still strong enough to slam dozens of Atlantic beach communities in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia this weekend before heading to New York on Monday. A Category 2 storm carries winds of 96 to 110 mph (154-177 kph).
Read said Irene could mimic the path of Hurricane Gloria in 1985, a Category 3 storm that hit North Carolina’s Outer Banks and then slammed into New York’s Long Island and curved through New England, causing $900 million of damage.
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate briefed Obama and other top officials on the threat from Irene, which included tropical-storm-force winds or worse in Washington.
Irene forced the cancellation of Sunday’s dedication ceremony for the new memorial honouring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall in Washington. Tens of thousands of people, including Obama, had had been expected to attend.
Coastal evacuations were under way in North Carolina and were ordered for beach resorts in Virginia, Delaware and Maryland. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell urged residents to seek shelter by tonight, before the winds kick up.
“Saturday is going to be a horrendous day for travel. There will be roads and bridges closed,” he said.
Hurricane watches and warnings were in effect along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to New Jersey. The governors of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut declared emergencies for Irene.
“From a flooding perspective, this could be a hundred-year event,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.
New York readies
Irene will be the first hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Ike pounded Texas in 2008.
At 8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT), Irene had sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kph) and its centre was about 530 miles (930 km) south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the United States’ most populous city was bracing to experience at least tropical storm conditions and flooding starting on Sunday. Irene could hit Long Island, which extends due east from the city, as a Category 2 hurricane.
The city was positioning rescue boats and helicopters and working to minimize street flooding. Hospitals and nursing homes in low-lying areas were ordered to evacuate unless they obtained permission to stay open.
“The city has already seen the power of Mother Nature once this week, and Mother Nature may not be done with us yet,” Bloomberg said, referring to Tuesday’s earthquake that shook the East Coast, frightening millions but causing no deaths.